10 Natural Sleep Aids: What Works and Why

By now, the average person grasps just how important sleep is for our overall health. It seems like every month there’s a new popular science book extolling the virtues of sleep. Parents remember the zombified newborn days and can see (and hear), firsthand, what happens when a toddler doesn’t get enough sleep. And on a visceral level, we feel the need for slumber. Even if we’re unaware of or refuse to accept the health dangers of long-term sleep restriction, there’s no getting around the abject misery of a bad night’s sleep.

We all want better sleep. We all need better sleep. But how?

Sleeping pills are not the answer for most people.

(But please note: Don’t discontinue or alter a prescribed treatment or medication regimen without consulting your doctor…and, likewise, don’t begin a new regimen—like those below—without running it by your physician.)

In one recent “positive” study on the effects of sleeping pills, almost every single subject suffered one or more side effects, ranging from headaches to nausea to irritability to dizziness to dysgeusia (a condition where your sense of taste is altered).

In another, taking Ambien the night before decreased cognitive performance and increased subjective sleepiness the next morning.

Studies aside, there are thousands of horror stories about people ruining their lives (or behaving in a way that had the potential to do so) after taking sleeping pills. Twitter rants that get you fired, sleep driving, tooth grinding, furniture rearranging, sleep eating. And those are just the ones that people live to tell.

That’s not to say sleeping pills are useless. They’re legitimate drugs to be used for specific medical conditions, in specific patient circumstances. They aren’t to be trifled with. But if you’re just trying to “get better sleep,” you’ve got options. And I’m not even mentioning the lifestyle and behavioral modifications you can make to improve your sleep.

Here are my favorite natural sleep aids….

1. GABA

GABA is the inhibitory neurotransmitter. It calms the brain. It soothes the brain. It de-stresses the brain. And it’s a major factor in the creation of melatonin, the hormone our brain uses to trigger sleep onset. Insomniacs have reduced brain GABA levels compared to non-insomniacs; the same goes for people with sleep apnea. Restoring physiological levels of GABA, then, is a first line of defense against poor sleep.

Oral GABA has a blood-brain barrier problem—it doesn’t cross it particularly well. Children have more permissive BBBs, but most of my readers aren’t children. Nitric oxide tends to increase GABA diffusion across the blood brain barrier, and there are a couple of ways to increase nitric oxide in conjunction with taking GABA to make the latter more effective for sleep.

You could sunbathe. That increases nitric oxide release. The only problem is that most sunbathing occurs during the midday hours, not at night. It’s unclear how long the boost from sunlight lasts, though it certainly can’t hurt.

You could take apocynum venetum, an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine that increases nitric oxide release. In fact, one study showed that taking GABA with apcynum ventum improves sleep quality.

Before you start sedating yourself, see if GABA has an effect.

2. Melatonin

When it’s bedtime for your brain, your pineal gland starts pumping out a hormone called melatonin. This initiates the onset of sleep and triggers subjective feelings of sleepiness; it also sets your circadian rhythm.

Supplemental melatonin crosses the blood brain barrier and acts very similarly to endogenous melatonin.

Don’t use melatonin every night. Not because you’ll get “addicted” (you won’t) or “your natural production will stop” (it won’t), but because you should focus on producing your own. If I get a big dose of late night blue light, I might nibble on a little melatonin. If I have more than a single glass of wine at night, I’ll have some melatonin before bed as alcohol depresses its production. And when I travel, I always take a few milligrams an hour before my desired bedtime in the new time zone.

The main reason you shouldn’t rely on melatonin for everyday use is that supplemental melatonin pharmacology doesn’t quite emulate endogenous melatonin pharmacology. The way most people take it is in a single dose before bed. The way the brain produces it is consistently through the night. If you want to emulate physiological levels of melatonin, you’re better off taking a single dose of instant release melatonin followed by a dose of slow release melatonin, or a supplement that includes both forms. Even then, it’s not the same.

3. Collagen

I still remember the first time I drank a big mug of bone broth at night. It was one of the not-as-rare-as-you’d-think cold “winter” nights in Malibu. I was sitting on the couch, reading a book, and got about 3/4 of the way through a mug of chicken foot broth before, apparently, falling asleep right then and there. A bit of research the next day revealed that glycine, the primary amino acid in collagen/gelatin/broth, can have a powerful effect on sleep quality. Not only that, glycine also lowers body temperature (an important part of the sleep process) and improves wakefulness the next day. And if you’ve got REM sleep behavior disorder, glycine may be the solution.

In fact, the glycine-sleep effect was another consideration in creating Collagen Fuel and Peptides. Everyone talks about the benefits to joint health, performance, skin, nails, hair, and general inflammation, but I want folks to also discover the benefit of glycine-enhanced sleep, too.

If you take collagen, aim for at least 10 grams at night. If you’re taking straight glycine, 3 grams is the minimum dose. Those are threshold doses; more may help even more.

4. Magnesium

We talk a lot about “age-related” declines in health, vitality, performance, and basic physiological functions. We also talk about how much of what we call “age-related” isn’t inevitable. It’s not so much that the passage of time degrades our bodies and how they work, but that we become more susceptible to poor lifestyle, dietary, and exercise choices because of compounding negative interest. We’re born with robust health and if we fail to maintain it, our health worsens as time progresses. If we never stop moving, lifting weights, and eating right, aging doesn’t happen to the same degree.

One thing that changes with age is how we sleep. In older people, sleep architecture is different: More time is spent awake and there’s less slow wave sleep. Sleep spindles, those oscillating bursts of brain wave activity, begin disappearing. Sounds inevitable, right? Except that research shows that taking magnesium reverses these age-related changes to sleep architecture.

Taking some Natural Calm (a great magnesium supplement) after your CrossFit workout and falling asleep faster is one thing. But to actually restore youthful sleep architecture? Amazing.

5. CBD Oil

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis.

And to me, the most interesting aspect of CBD lies in its potential to improve sleep. A 2017 review provides a nice summary of the effects of CBD on sleep:

In insomnia patients, 160 mg/day of CBD increased sleep time and reduced the number of arousals (not that kind) during the night.

Lower doses are linked to increased arousals and greater wakefulness. Higher dose CBD improved sleep.

In preliminary research with Parkinson’s patients, CBD reduced REM-related behavioral disorder—which is when you basically act out your dreams as they’re happening.

More recently, a large case series (big bunch of case studies done at once) was performed giving CBD to anxiety patients who had trouble sleeping. Almost 80% had improvements in anxiety and 66% had improvements in sleep (although the sleep improvements fluctuated over time).

Here’s how to find a good CBD oil.

6. Theanine

Theanine is a chemical found in tea, especially tea grown in shady conditions. Because it is structurally similar to glutamate and easily passes the blood brain barrier, theanine binds to various glutamate receptors in the brain, inhibiting the action of some and promoting the action of others. It also increases serotonin, GABA, and glycine in the brain—all chemicals that can pave the way for better sleep.

Theanine is another of those sleep aids that isn’t expressly about sleep. It’s about relaxation, about letting you get out of your own way. If in the course of relaxation and stress reduction you end up taking care of the thing that’s messing up your sleep, theanine can be said to be a big sleep aid.

This is a good theanine. I also make a supplement (Adaptogenic Calm) that contains theanine and other stress-reducing compounds.

7. Lutein and Zeaxanthin

One of the most powerful sleep aids is wearing a pair of orange safety goggles that blocks blue light after dark. Viewed after dark, blue (and green) light suppresses melatonin secretion, pushes back sleep onset, and throws off your entire circadian rhythm. Blocking the light with goggles allows normal melatonin production to proceed and promotes earlier bedtimes and better, deeper sleeps.

What if you could take a supplement that simulated the blue-blocking effect of a pair of orange safety goggles? Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids, plant-based pigments found in colorful produce and pasture-raised eggs that are actually incorporated into the eye where they offer protection from sunlight and inhibit the melatonin-reducing effect of nighttime light exposure. Human studies show that taking lutein and zeaxanthin on a regular basis improves sleep quality, reduces sleep disturbances, and lowers dependence on supplemental or pharmaceutical sleep aids.

Here’s a good one. Trader Joe’s also has a good supplement called Super Vision.

The best natural sleep aids restore the ancestral sleep baseline. At baseline, humans should be walking around with good GABA levels. They should be getting enough magnesium, collagen/glycine, and carotenoids from their diet. It’s normal to produce melatonin after dark. And even though humans haven’t been dosing themselves with CBD or theanine for very long, it also isn’t normal to be inundated with chronic, low level stress and persistent anxiety—the type of stress that ruins our sleep, the type of anxiety that CBD and theanine can regulate.

What else?

8. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is an herb in the mint family. The fragrance is intoxicating (I’ve even used lemon balm in a roasted chicken), but not the effects. It doesn’t directly induce sleep—it’s not a sedative or a hypnotic—but if stress and anxiety are getting in the way of your sleep, lemon balm will help clear them out.

9. Valerian

Valerian root has a long history as an anti-insomnia herb. The ancient Greeks used it and traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medical traditions continue to use to it to treat bad sleep. Valerian contains a compound that slows down the brain’s metabolism of GABA, thereby increasing GABA levels and letting what the brain already produces hang around even longer.

I’ll admit I’m more ambivalent about these last two options. While they’re certainly gentler than pharmaceutical sleep pills, and lemon balm in particular is a legit way to deal with stress and anxiety, their efficacy for sleep is questionable. The evidence just isn’t there, though I grant that many people report good results.

10. Combinations

Many of these individual compounds become more powerful and more effective combined with each other. Since these aren’t pharmaceutical drugs with very narrow safety profiles rife with contraindications, taking them together usually isn’t an issue, but check in with your doctor anyway (especially if you’re taking other medications or have known health conditions).

And today’s list isn’t exhaustive. There are other compounds, herbs, and supplements that can probably help people improve their sleep.

Most of the adaptogens, like ashwagandha or rhodiola rosea, have been shown in one study or another to improve sleep in humans. Anything that helps get you back to baseline, back to homeostasis, back to normal—will restore your sleep if it’s suffering. And if you’re suffering, your sleep is likely suffering because sleep is such a fundamental aspect of the human experience. Anything that improves your health will also probably improve your sleep.

This goes without saying, but don’t limit yourself to natural sleep supplements. Don’t forget about the importance of lifestyle, of exercise, of diet, of morning light exposure and nighttime light avoidance. Supplements can help, but they can’t be the foundation for good sleep hygiene. You’re just asking for trouble—or subpar results.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Now, let’s hear from you. What natural sleep aids have you found most useful? Is there anything I overlooked or forgot? Let me know down below.

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References:

Pinto LR, Bittencourt LR, Treptow EC, Braga LR, Tufik S. Eszopiclone versus zopiclone in the treatment of insomnia. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2016;71(1):5-9.

Dinges DF, Basner M, Ecker AJ, Baskin P, Johnston S. Effects of Zolpidem and Zaleplon on Cognitive Performance After Emergent Tmax and Morning Awakenings: a Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Sleep. 2018;

Yamatsu A, Yamashita Y, Maru I, Yang J, Tatsuzaki J, Kim M. The Improvement of Sleep by Oral Intake of GABA and Apocynum venetum Leaf Extract. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol. 2015;61(2):182-7.

Held K, Antonijevic IA, Künzel H, et al. Oral Mg(2+) supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2002;35(4):135-43.

Kim S, Jo K, Hong KB, Han SH, Suh HJ. GABA and l-theanine mixture decreases sleep latency and improves NREM sleep. Pharm Biol. 2019;57(1):65-73.

Rondanelli M, Opizzi A, Monteferrario F, Antoniello N, Manni R, Klersy C. The effect of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc on primary insomnia in long-term care facility residents in Italy: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011;59(1):82-90.

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I’m Hell-Bent On Creating a Healthier Fire Service

It’s Monday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Monday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

I was over being a factory worker. I spent my lunch breaks smoking cigarettes and eating 5 dollar footlongs. Who knew that footlong subs weren’t healthy? I wanted to reclaim my health and find a more exciting career. Being a firefighter seemed cool and different. When I decided to take the upcoming firefighter exam for the city of Columbus, I knew that the physical portion would be difficult. I hadn’t worked out since childhood sports and smoked a pack a day. That’s when I started researching the optimal diet and workout routines. Like everyone in the early stages of their health journey, I tried everything.

Jogging had become my salvation. No matter how long my workday was, or how physically drained I was after clocking out, I would run 3 or 4 miles on the trail. I was trying to out-train my diet. I felt prepared to take on the physical exam after months of cardio training and zero strength training. The test was pretty easy besides dragging a 200 lb dummy around. I did fine, but I didn’t stand out. Onward and upward. I was now “skinny-fat” with no idea how to eat. It didn’t take long to realize that the fad diets and chronic cardio weren’t going to cut it. I wasn’t seeing the results I had hoped for. This was motivation for me to get better—to get stronger and wiser.

Thank you, Google, for introducing me to Mark’s Daily Apple and the Primal community. When I discovered the treasure that is the Primal Blueprint, everything got easier. It provided clarity on how to eat and move like I was meant to. Implementing the lifestyle laws that Mark created was easy: lift heavy shit a couple times a week and keep it moving. I ditched the 5Ks in favor of HIIT and hill sprints. My kettlebell and cobweb-covered pull up bar in the basement were the only gym equipment I needed. Once I could do twenty strict pull ups in a row, I began adding weight by hanging a bowling ball in the bag over my shoulders like a backpack. I quickly worked my way up to “mastery level” on the PEMs.

My diet was simplified. I found three or four go-to Primal meals and cycled through them weekly. Steak and cauliflower mash with greens is still a favorite of mine. No more Miller High Life, more Cab Francs. No more cigarettes, more kettlebell swings. Friends and family noticed my transformation and from there I became their ancestral health advocate (AHA). I became deeply passionate about ancestral health and teaching people how to eat. Once you go Primal there is a tendency to want to pay it forward.

Throughout this shift towards a Primal lifestyle, I was still grinding and testing my way into the fire service. I finally landed a job! I was officially a full-time firefighter and paramedic. Things did not get easier from there, however. I had job stability and my money problems went away, but my health suffered—mainly my sleep quality. Like most first responders, I developed shift work sleep disorder and chronic stress. My days off were now dedicated to recovery from sleep deprivation. Grumpy and tired was my new default. I realized early on that this would not be a sustainable career path if I valued my health and longevity.

Around the same time, Mark developed the Primal Health Coach Institute. After many discussions with admissions director Laura Rupsis, I decided to pull the trigger and enroll in the course. Four months later I was certified, smart AF, and ready to coach.

Now my off-duty days are spent researching and coaching first responders (my niche) to better health. I teach firefighters across the nation how to survive the fire service by incorporating ancestral health techniques. My philosophy on health has now been published in Firehouse Magazine and EMS World Magazine. If you can get through to firefighters, you can get through to anyone. Eventually, hangry firefighters will be a thing of the past and the fat-adapted will prevail. So here I am, having steak and eggs with broccoli and having a lasting impact on the fire service.

Ancient philosophy has provided me with a guide to the good life. The Primal Blueprint and ancestral health have provided me with a guide to the healthy life. By combining the two, I provide clients with peace of mind and peace of body. Mark Sisson wants to change the lives of 100 million people. I am hell-bent on creating a healthier fire service. Here’s to a life full of good food and gratitude. Your health, your hands.

Nick Holderbaum

Primal Health Coach profile

The readers featured in our success stories share their experiences in their own words. The Primal Blueprint and Keto Reset diets are not intended as medical intervention or diagnosis. Nor are they replacements for working with a qualified healthcare practitioner. It’s important to speak with your doctor before beginning any new dietary or lifestyle program, and please consult your physician before making any changes to medication or treatment protocols. Each individual’s results may vary.

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Hemp Oil: How Should You Take It?

The burgeoning CBD hemp oil scene has made finding a product easier than ever, but it’s also made choosing a product harder. If you recall my post from years ago on decision fatigue, you’ll know what I’m talking about: the paralysis of too many choices…. I know my readership, and I know you’re the type of people who will wonder about optimizing their CBD ingestion. This stuff isn’t cheap, and it’s perfectly rational to want to get your money’s worth.

While the compound itself—cannabidiol, or CBD—doesn’t change from product to product, the way it’s administered does.

There are oral hemp oil supplements—gummies, capsules, infused teas, chocolates. Things you eat and drink and digest.

There are sublingual hemp oil supplements—sprays, tinctures, lozenges. Things you swish and swirl around your mouth.

There are topical CBD—creams, lotions, and balms.

There are patches—things you rub and attach to your skin.

There is high-CBD cannabis and CBD-only vape juice. Things you can vaporize and inhale.

But how do you choose? What are the differences between the various routes of administration?

What To Consider When Choosing A CBD Product

Speed of absorption. How quickly do you want the CBD to take effect?

Intensity. How powerful do you want your CBD “experience” to be?

Duration. How long do you want it to last?

Effects. Where do you want it to take effect?

CBD Product Choices: The Rundown

Oral

Oral CBD is the most common method of administration. It’s simple, easy, and intuitive. Everyone swallows pills, eats food, and drinks fluids. There’s almost no way to mess it up (choking aside).

Oral CBD is readily absorbed. Like most everything else that travels through the digestive system, it goes to the liver to be metabolized and converted into different metabolites. The liver is so central to oral CBD that people with poor liver function actually end up with higher serum CBD after taking it orally, since their livers aren’t as good at metabolizing it into different compounds. This liver route also means it takes longer for oral CBD to take effect, but it lasts longer.

Taking an acute oral dose every once in awhile is less effective than consistent dosing because of the liver’s tendency to regulate its bioavailability. When you take it on a regular basis, CBD—being fat soluble like other cannabinoids—gathers in your adipose tissue where your endocannabinoid system can theoretically utilize it on an ongoing basis.

  • Speed: Slow
  • Intensity: Low to moderate (depending on dosage)
  • Duration: Long
  • Effects: Systemic

Sublingual

Sublingual CBD goes under the tongue for absorption via the mucosal membranes in the mouth, which are highly permeable. From there, it bypasses the portal vein—the passage that leads from the digestive tract to the liver—and heads straight for the blood. And then whatever’s left over and not absorbed sublingually gets swallowed and makes it into the digestive tract, so nothing’s wasted.

You have several sublingual options….

Tinctures: Little dropper bottles.

Sprays: AKA oromucosal spray; think CBD-infused Binaca (anyone remember Binaca?).

Lozenges: CBD lozenges that slowly dissolve in your mouth and enter through the mucosa.

The longer you let the CBD sit in your mouth, the more you’ll absorb. 60-90 seconds appears to be the most commonly recommended period of time.

  • Speed: Fast
  • Intensity: Low to high (depending on dosage)
  • Duration: Moderate
  • Effects: Systemic

Inhaled

The original way to get CBD, inhaling CBD, is the fastest-acting and the most intense (with intensity meaning “effectiveness,” not “this will get you messed up, man,” since CBD is not psychoactive). The vapor or smoke enters the lungs, whose alveoli act as a direct conduit to the bloodstream. Inhalation is also the most legally precarious (depending on where you live) because many inhalation CBD products also contain THC, which remains illegal in most places.

You can smoke cannabis bred to be very high in CBD and low in THC, but there will always be some THC present. You couldn’t exactly call this non-psychoactive (or legal in most places) either due to the THC.

There’s also CBD-only vape juice/E-liquid that you can vaporize and inhale.

It’s certainly effective, though if you’re going for efficiency it’s not “optimal.” Your lungs can’t absorb all the CBD in the smoke or vapor; a significant portion is exhaled and lost to the atmosphere. Plus, there’s the whole fact that filling your lungs with smoke is a major stressor. Vapor might be safer, but I’m skeptical.

  • Speed: Fast
  • Intensity: Low to high (depending on dosage)
  • Duration: Shorter
  • Effects: Systemic

Topical

Like other cannabinoids, the CBD molecule is highly hydrophobic and thus cannot pass through the aqueous layer of the skin to reach general circulation. However, if you lather enough of it on to an isolated patch of injured rat skin, it can interact with peripheral cannabinoid receptors that reduce pain and inflammation at a local level. This hasn’t been confirmed in live humans, but anecdotal reports are positive.

  • Speed: Fast
  • Intensity: Unknown
  • Duration: Unknown
  • Effects: Local

Which One Should You Choose?

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I don’t use CBD myself (though I’m not opposed to it and am open to incorporating it in the future if it proves to be uniquely helpful). As a result, I don’t have any strong personally motivated opinion about specific products. What I can give is my objective take on the available evidence, which is fairly light and preliminary:

The best-studied CBD administration methods are oral and sublingual. The majority of human studies have utilized those two routes. There are quite a few positive studies on smoked or inhaled CBD, too, but those often include THC and fail to isolate CBD. If you’re only interested in CBD and not in THC (or it’s illegal where you live), those studies probably don’t apply to you.

In the large set of case studies that found CBD helped patients improve their sleep, the subjects took CBD capsules.

In a study on CBD and pain, the subjects used an oromucosal spray.

In epilepsy patients, oral CBD capsules were incredibly effective.

For general use, whether it’s for anxiety, inflammation, pain, or “general wellness,” oral and/or sublingual use seems to be the real ticket. You know how much you’re consuming. You get a long lasting, fairly fast-acting duration of action. You get the quick absorption into the bloodstream of inhaled CBD without losing any due to exhalation. And if you don’t absorb it all through your oral mucous membranes, you’ll simply swallow and digest the rest. Nothing is lost.

What about you, folks? I know there are some experienced CBD users out there reading this. What’s your favorite method of administration, and why?

Take care everyone.

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References:

Taylor L, Crockett J, Tayo B, Morrison G. A Phase 1, Open-Label, Parallel-Group, Single-Dose Trial of the Pharmacokinetics and Safety of Cannabidiol (CBD) in Subjects With Mild to Severe Hepatic Impairment. J Clin Pharmacol. 2019;

Lattanzi S, Brigo F, Trinka E, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Cannabidiol in Epilepsy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Drugs. 2018;78(17):1791-1804.

Richardson JD, Kilo S, Hargreaves KM. Cannabinoids reduce hyperalgesia and inflammation via interaction with peripheral CB1 receptors. Pain. 1998;75(1):111-9.

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I Saw the Extra Weight I’d Carried My Whole Life Slip Away

It’s Monday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Monday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

My visual transformation isn’t all that impressive. In fact, despite having a completely different body composition, I weigh more or less the same that I did six years ago.

My real transformation has occurred on the inside and in the way that I try to embody the Primal Blueprint principles in the way I live my life.

Before Primal Living:

  • Out of shape
  • Abysmal self-esteem
  • Without a clear life path

6 Years Since Discovering Mark’s Daily Apple:

  • Owns a Health & Fitness blog and coaching business
  • Inspires others to find their self-esteem through leading by example
  • Recreational athlete in Powerlifting, Strongman and Highland Games
  • Loving life every day

I first heard of Mark and his message about primal health back in 2013. At the time, my husband and I were living in a modest cabin in the woods of Northern Maine and the extent of my fitness routine was the obligatory jog now and then or some exercise videos that mostly involved bodyweight training. Our cabin had no electricity or running water which meant that we were gathering, cutting and stacking firewood by hand so that we could stay warm during the long winters. Turning manure, bending over in the garden, hauling hay for our goats and clearing woods for future pasture were serious back killing chores and we knew we needed to find a way to get stronger in order to support our active lifestyle. Coupled with this was my husband’s chronic GI distress and autoimmune condition, Reactive Arthritis, which led us down the road of research into how a grain-free, sugar free diet could improve those ailments.

As is often the case, primal nutrition and heavy lifting principles were deeply entwined from the very beginning of our journey towards optimal health. And as we cut out wheat and sugar, we also began learning the functional movements of the squat, deadlift and pull-up. With a manual treadmill we found in the barn, we regularly blasted ourselves with intervals after reading from you the importance of sprinting. Your fitness principles of walk far, run fast, lift heavy came so naturally to us and in the setting of the lush, Maine woods, it felt that much more primal to get in tune with our ancestral physiques.

You might imagine that the stronger and more fit we became, the more we wanted to eat better to support that. Before long, our backs felt bulletproof chopping and stacking piles of firewood. My husband’s arthritis improved. I was seeing the extra weight I had carried my whole life slip away. We had gone to the woods to seek a lifestyle where we could call the shots and pursue our healthiest existence. But in the process, we had the rude awakening that our bodies were the weakest link in the chain of health. Our minds were strong and our homestead was strong, but our bodies were not. And so when we saw the benefits of the Primal Blueprint massively improve our existence, it was like coming out of a bad dream and I woke up one morning thinking “hey, this is really something to live for.”

While I graduated college with a degree in writing, I never really had found my purpose or a career I was passionate about giving my 9 to 5 energy to. I always believed that I had a lot to share with the world, but couldn’t conceive of what avenue to take, but with this new primal lifestyle, I discovered a completely unexpected passion. Always the chubby book nerd my whole life, taking on sports in school out of social pressure and obligation but never out of true interest, here I was, suddenly wanting to pursue fitness and wellness as a career.

We ended up leaving our little homestead for my husband to travel down the long (and still not complete) road of becoming a Dentist. He studied for biochemistry and tests and I studied strength and conditioning in between my long hours at Starbucks. (Side note: I managed to make it 2 years working there without consuming sugar and my coworkers would always marvel at my dedication of turning down a free Frappuccino. I explained to them that eating primal, my energy was consistent throughout the day and better than ever and seeing the positive effects of my nutrition in my day to day life was all the motivation I needed to persist.) The years we spent studying for our individual pursuits, we also spend wrecking ourselves on the barbell and on the field doing sprints and without following any strict program, we simply tried to remember to walk far, run fast, lift heavy. Slowly and surely, our body composition improved and I took on my first personal training clients.

Now living in Salt Lake City, I think of myself more as a Strength Coach than a personal trainer and before walking that road I didn’t even realize there was a difference. I see my colleagues often get wrapped up in ideal programming principles and I try to remember the basics: pick up heavy stuff and put it overhead using good technique, train for explosive speed and go on long hikes outdoors.

I use my personal experience to help guide my athletes on the emotional journey of becoming strong and realizing their physical potential. I have so many people, primarily women, come to me saying they want to lose weight. But as we begin working together, they quickly see that in fact their goal is much more complex that a number on the scale. They learn that it feels good to get strong and learn how to move in ways they never thought possible. I see the look of fear in their eyes at approaching a back squat for the first time and I recognize that look of fear because it’s the same one I felt when I started my journey. I see timid women who hate their bodies do a pull-up for the first time after working hard for a year and then it’s like poof… now they love their bodies because they unlocked this talent for strength they never knew they had. When that happens, the number on the scale matters so much less to them because now they have a performance goal. Now they are pursuing health rather than weight loss.

Although I am not strictly a Primal Blueprint coach, I still hold onto those principles while I teach other people how to lift and what strategies they can use to build balanced nutrition. I encourage them to seek nutrient-dense foods rather than counting macros or calories and to eat when hunger ensues naturally rather than adhering to six small meals a day. I feel confident coaching strategies like Keto and Intermittent Fasting because I have done the research on the health benefits and have the anecdotal evidence to back it up from my own experience. I am always trying to do what your blog did for me, which is to teach them ways they can figure out what health uniquely means to them. I still try to embody the idea that you instilled in me: study how our ancestors thrived to learn how to seek our healthy existence in a world that can often be toxic.

My transformation doesn’t come through in a before and after photo, but I believe I have gained a million times more than if I had lost 100 lbs and cured 10 autoimmune conditions. I discovered my life’s path and spend every day trying to guide others to do the same.

Thank you,
Hill

primalpillarsstrength.com
Instagram @primalpillars

The readers featured in our success stories share their experiences in their own words. The Primal Blueprint and Keto Reset diets are not intended as medical intervention or diagnosis. Nor are they replacements for working with a qualified healthcare practitioner. It’s important to speak with your doctor before beginning any new dietary or lifestyle program, and please consult your physician before making any changes to medication or treatment protocols. Each individual’s results may vary.

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After Six Months I Was In Remission

It’s Monday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Monday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

I wanted to send an update since my last success story that you shared. But for the sake of the success stories (and first-time readers), I’ll give a little background info as well.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease back in 2000 at the young age of 13. For many years, I had many health-related ups and downs, and I was constantly in and out of remission. Not only did I suffer from painful gut-related issues, but I suffered from many other side-effects as well such as liver issues, extreme migraines, depression, thyroid nodules, rashes, and fragile hair and nails.

Since the day I was diagnosed, my GI doctor had me on pharmaceuticals which he would increase or change when I got flare-ups. I spent my youth in and out of doctor’s offices, hospitals, and urgent care centers getting poked at, screened and examined. I usually left in tears, hopeless, told that I would always have to be on medications.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2017 when I met my Holistic Nutritionist. She introduced me to Functional Medicine. She immediately recommended a change in diet—something NO doctor had even mentioned to me before! And she added specific supplements to my protocol, supplements in which my body was lacking and completely depleted of because my gut wasn’t absorbing nutrients.

She started me on the path of Holistic Health: eating right and natural methods to take care of my body and ailments. Within the first couple of months I started feeling better, and after 6 months I was in remission.

One of the first things I changed was my diet. I started on a Paleo/Autoimmune Protocol, and things continued getting better from there. I started doing my own research, and that’s when I discovered Mark Sisson, the Primal Blueprint and Mark’s Daily Apple!

Mark’s recipes and informative articles helped me a lot. He’s a huge inspiration to me. Not only is going Primal one of the better health decisions I’ve made, but his recipes are deliciously amazing as well. I truly enjoy being in the kitchen…something I used to dread!

Since following the Primal Lifestyle, I’ve become healthier than ever before. I stay active, eat right and nourish my body with HEALTHY choices, get outdoors, and try to maintain a positive mentality.

I’m no longer depressed, sick, or thin—in fact, I can’t even remember the last time I was “stay-at-home-in-bed” sick! I’ve been off ALL pharmaceuticals for 17 months! I have energy all day long and I’ve been able to travel abroad without any issues; this past summer I spent 1 month volunteering on an organic herbal farm in Portugal, afterwards I went to the Austrian Alps, and then flew across continents to meet my husband in Cartagena, Colombia to visit his family. I traveled all summer without a single Crohn’s flare-up or getting sick. Traveling like that is something I’d never been able to do before switching my lifestyle.

The knowledge I’ve learned—and continue to learn—helps me maintain my current health, and I’m incredibly thankful to all my health “teachers” out there, including you, Mark!

Because I’m a true believer in Holistic/Functional Health, I started a collaborative health blog called Honor Thy Gut to get the word out that holistic healing does work. I like to share uplifting stories, tips and advice that has helped me heal. I encourage my readers to add to the conversation as well! My articles are often inspired by Mark Sisson, Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr Axe, John Douillard, among many others.

Happy Healing to you all!

Larissa Nowak-Lobo

The readers featured in our success stories share their experiences in their own words. The Primal Blueprint and Keto Reset diets are not intended as medical intervention or diagnosis. Nor are they replacements for working with a qualified healthcare practitioner. It’s important to speak with your doctor before beginning any new dietary or lifestyle program, and please consult your physician before making any changes to medication or treatment protocols. Each individual’s results may vary.

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My Favorite Way To Play: Ultimate Frisbee Workout (with Video)

I’m a believer in working hard AND playing hard. When we get stuck in patterns of overwork and overstress, we lose the important connection with our creative, intuitive, playful selves. Our work suffers and so does our happiness (which means everything else, like our relationships, will, too). Stuart Brown, one of the world’s leading experts on play, calls play a “profound biologic process.” What we all know (or used to know until modern living helped us forget) is that play is an essential component of our physical development and general well-being. From a personal standpoint, the older I get the more I recognize play as the linchpin for my own sense of vitality. As a result, I prioritize play—even above exercise. Fortunately, however, I’ve grown into a new relationship with fitness as a result of play. I gave up the slog of grueling training regimens decades ago now, but to this day I’m still living more deeply into a play-based fitness vision. Let me show you a bit of what that looks like for me….

You all have heard me talk about Ultimate—probably as long as Mark’s Daily Apple has been around. The fact is, it’s as thrilling for me today as it was twelve years ago. Nothing else quite combines the diversity of essential movement and the heart of play like Ultimate does. In a single hour, I’m getting regular sprinting, lateral movement, agility training, recovery phases, and mind-body coordination to skillfully throw, catch and move on the field. I love the intense challenge and fast pace of the game.

Ultimate plays very similarly to rugby or football. The field has two end zones, and a team scores by catching a pass in the defensive team’s end zone. The defending team performs a “pull” (think “kickoff” in football) to start the match (and after every subsequent point scored). The offense moves the disc by passing to teammates in any direction. Once a player catches the disc, he must come to a stop as quickly as possible. From this position, he can only move his non-pivot foot. A player has ten seconds to throw the disc after catching it.

The disc changes hands either by turnover or after a score. A turnover occurs when a pass is not completed, intercepted, dropped, blocked, held for longer than the allotted ten seconds, or thrown out of bounds. The defending team assumes control of the disc immediately following a turnover, from wherever the disc lands on the field. There is no stoppage of play (unless a foul, injury or bad weather occurs).

From a physical standpoint, you’re out there running, leaping, twisting, grabbing, throwing, and bumping into other players. You use practically every muscle in the body (if you’re not, you’re doing it wrong) and, rather than long protracted runs, you engage in short bursts of speed and activity punctuated by walking and brief jogging (almost like you’re on the hunt). Not only does it take keen, quick thinking, remarkable agility and throwing accuracy, and raw athleticism, but it also promotes good teamwork and sportsmanship. In fact, Ultimate has an official “Spirit of the Game” (SOTG), a sort of mission statement that stresses sportsmanship and honor. Highly competitive play is condoned, but not at the cost of general camaraderie. Everyone is out there to have a good time and get some great exercise.

Check it out.

Want more ideas for active play? Here you go.

And for more on the importance of play for a Primal Blueprint lifestyle, check out these resources.

Now you tell me: what’s your favorite way to play? How do you merge the Primal goals of mobility and fitness with everyday enjoyment? Thanks for stopping in today.

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10 Primal Date Ideas For Every Couple

I know we missed Valentine’s Day, but I’ve always said love cannot be contained. Besides: People are always going on dates. People are always searching for new ways to break out of the regular mold, which is completely understandable. Dates are try-outs. You’re spending time with another person to determine how they fit into your life. Unconventional dates that branch out from “dinner, movie, drinks” into more adventurous, creative realms provide excellent feedback for making that determination.

Dates are also a way for established couples to keep things fresh and exciting, to keep the relationship moving. There’s no better way than to try something new.

As it happens, most work for friends, too.

Now, some of these dates are silly or out-of-left field. Some are more serious. And one is a Primal Costanza date—what not to do. But regardless, they are all worth exploring. And—as always—I’d love to hear what you’d add.

1) Watch a Movie and Fill In the Dialogue

You know that scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are watching a drive-in movie without sound and filling in the dialogue themselves? Do the same thing, only make all the dialogue health and fitness-related. For example, The Empire Strikes Back would work great.

Just before Han is frozen in carbonite, Leia speaks. “I love cold therapy, so many benefits. I can send you the PubMed links.” Han replies. “I know.”

Vader gives Luke the bad news. “Luke, I am a vegan.” “Nooooooooo!”

Pick your favorite movie, and try it out yourselves. Drive-ins aren’t necessary (do they even still have those?); you could just put the T.V. on mute.

2) Couples’ Spa Day

A couple hundreds years ago, you didn’t really go to the doctor. You’d go to a spa. Spas were healing centers erected around natural springs of mineral-rich water. People would bathe in it (many were hot springs), drink it, and engage in other healthy pursuits. Many of today’s most popular bottled mineral waters come from springs that doubled as health spas back in earlier days.

The average person may think of a spa as a pleasure center, a superficial luxury. But getting a massage, soaking in hot mineral water, smearing yourself with mud and/or clay, exposing yourself to extreme temperatures in the sauna, steam room, and cold water pool? These are all objectively healthy and pleasurable experiences with measurable benefits.

Go for a hot soak, followed by a cold plunge. Do the mud bath thing. Get a deep tissue massage. Soak in the salty mineral-rich brine. And do it with your date, as your date.

3) Get Physical

No, not like that (necessarily). I’m talking about doing something physically demanding together, like a yoga session, a tough hike, a Tough Mudder, a Krav Maga class, or even a CrossFit workout.

Intense physical exertion—performed together—increases bonding. You’re sweating, you’re touching, you’re working hard toward a goal. You’re a team. Make it a little dangerous and the juices really flow. For the same reason, going to see a scary movie helps couples get closer.

4) Go Dancing or Take Dance Lessons

Dance is the prelude to closer, more intimate physical contact. And it’s incredibly healthy learning to move with cohesion and fluidity and precision through constantly varying ranges of motion. Dancers are some of the most athletic folks around—think b-boys, ballet dancers, practitioners of modern dance. I’m not a follower of the show, but seriously just look at an episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” for plain evidence of their athleticism.

Go dance, or take dance lessons if you can’t dance yet. If the latter, don’t make this a one-off. Keep the lessons going. Build that skill together. Move together.

Dancing together in your living room to music on your smartphone is completely valid, too.

5) Cook the Farmer’s Market

This is a fun little date to try. Carrie and I used to do this at the Malibu farmer’s market every once in awhile.

Go to every stand, ask the farmer what’s best today, and then buy that item. If your market is huge, you don’t need to buy from every single stand. Try to stick to a dozen stands or so just to keep things manageable.

Be reasonable with the quantities. Otherwise it’ll add up fast. If, say, the farmer recommends the leeks, buy a couple leeks. If it’s cauliflower, buy a head. If it’s strawberries, buy a basket.

Go home and create a meal together using only the things you purchased from the market. Use things like oil/cooking fat, salt, pepper, and spices from home (unless you bought them at the market, in which case you get extra points). If your market doesn’t offer any meat, feel free to incorporate store-bought meat. But do your best to use only things from the market.

Prep and cook it together. There you go, that’s your date.

6) Ten-Mile Date

Walk ten miles, at least. It can be through the city, the suburbs, or the forest. You can stop at stores, cafes, museums along the way—it doesn’t have to be ten miles straight without stopping. But get those ten miles in however you can.

7) Roughhouse

Roughhousing is universal. It’s also great fun. You roughhouse. You wrestle, jostle, poke, prod, but you don’t (ever) hurt each other. You keep things light, engaged, dancing on the edge of intensity. I really like Rafe Kelley’s approach. Check out the one where he and his partner act like their wrists are glued together as they move around, roll, push, and pull. Or where they stand on a large log, clasp hands, and try to pull each other off balance. That stuff is really fun. I’d try any of the videos from that link.

Another is one-legged tug of war. You each stand on one leg, clasp the other’s hand, and attempt to pull the other off balance. If there’s a big weight or strength disparity, have the stronger person stay on one foot and the weaker person use both. Put pillows and other soft landing spaces around your perimeter.

If you’re a man and she’s a woman, there will probably be some strength disparities. Use your better judgement. Keep things fair and competitive and fun.

8) Picnic and a Hike

Think back to all the hikes you’ve done, all the wilderness areas you’ve explored. Were there any perfect picnic spots that jumped out at you? Maybe a dry pebbly shore next to a gurgling creek. Maybe a ring of redwoods. Maybe a grassy meadow. Maybe a beach that only locals know about. If nothing comes to mind, Google one.

Then pack a lunch and get moving.

9) Stand-Up Paddling

I’m extremely biased. Stand-up paddling is probably my favorite activity. It’s training, meditation, adventure, and a fantastic core and rear delt/lat workout all in one. I’ve seen dolphins, manatees, whales, and any number of marine life on my board. I’ve hit the flow state on my board. I’ve finally figured out meditation being on my board. I’ve woken up with some of the most intense DOMS after a long day on my board. My transverse abdominals and obliques have never been stronger. It’s an all-around great time—and it makes a great date. We’re no longer youngsters in love, but Carrie and I have had a lot of good times when I can get her out on a board.

Not everyone has access to a paddle-worthy body of water, although more than you’d think—rivers, lakes, and reservoirs all work with a paddle board, not just the ocean. If you can’t paddle, something similar like kayaking or even cross-country skiing will work well.

10) Lecture Your Date At Dinner

Make sure your date knows exactly how unhealthy everything he or she is putting in her mouth.

When he orders pasta, make a face.

When she fails to confirm that the salad dressing was made with extra virgin olive oil, pull the waiter aside and do it for her.

When he orders the fish, let him know the Monterey Bay rating.

If she gets anything deep-fried, tell her all about how restaurants reuse cooking oil, which (by the way) is most likely very high in unstable polyunsaturated fats.

This will ensure a second date.

That’s it for today, folks. If you try any of these date ideas, let me know how it goes. If you have any other ideas, write them in down below!

Take care.

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